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In Theaters: ‘Taken 2’ & ‘The Paperboy’ Are ‘Butter’ In The Mouths Of ‘Frankenweenie’ Who Haunts ‘Wuthering Heights’

In Theaters: 'Taken 2' & 'The Paperboy' Are 'Butter' In The Mouths Of 'Frankenweenie' Who Haunts 'Wuthering Heights'

Halloween is still a few weeks away, but, like the drug stores that erect candy aisles in August, the studios are rolling out the thematic material a little early. A reinterpretation of “Frankenstein” for kids (it’s never too early to start them on the classics) is complemented by the horror-movie-of-the-week and a number of films that delve into more realistic terrors, like the demise of healthcare or the drug problem in the United States. Also, a Sarah Palin surrogate sculpts with butter. Spooky.

Former-but-still-hardcore CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back to make a foreign land his battleground in “Taken 2,” from director Olivier Megaton (oh, how we wish we’d made that name up). This time around, it’s not his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) who Mills is trying to save — it’s himself. The father (Rade Serbedzija) of one of the 3,925 cronies he killed last time is out seeking revenge against Mills, his ex-wife (Famke Janssen), and daughter. Just in case you weren’t sure, family is everything in this franchise. Before you know it, the man with a particular set of skills is the one who gets taken. Now, Mills/Neeson is so badass that he could probably save the day one-handed, but Kim proves that the apple didn’t even fall from the tree yet, and gets in on the action. Our review calls the movie a “monotone punch-fest that is tirelessly rote in its stubborn desire to refuse any sense of ingenuity.” Metacritic: 45 Rotten Tomatoes: 14%

Tim Burton reworks his 1984 live action short into the 3D, black-and-white, animated “Frankenweenie,” a timely Halloween-themed kid’s flick. Young lad Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is so completely crushed by the death of his dog Sparky that he decides to do what most kids probably wish they could do when their pets are sent to “a farm”: he resurrects him! Inspired by a wacko teacher (Martin Landau) and a hometown brimming in its own brand of otherworldliness, Victor succeeds in bringing his beloved canine back to life. Now if only he can find a way to keep the reanimation a secret from his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) and classmates… Our review cites the film as perhaps “the most purely satisfying, enjoyable and wonderfully over-the-top climax to any Tim Burton movie since ‘Beetlejuice,'” and concludes, “Burton has made a true return to form, a bold declaration that he’s still very much relevant and able to create something artistically sound that will stir the heartstrings as much as it will delight the eye.” MC: 74 RT: 82%

Omnibus project “V/H/S” is a compilation of six horror shorts, each shot by a different director but in the same found footage style, with a grainy VHS look to boot. Adam Wingard directs the staple linkage piece, “Tape 56,” in which several hooligans, while searching a house for one specific video, uncover the tapes of the film’s other segments. Helming these subsequent vignettes – each featuring its fair share of gore, nudity, houses abandoned to mildew and the occult, and erratic camera movements – are David Bruckner, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, and four-man directing team Radio Silence. Our review says, “thematic through-lines assist in making the whole feel like slightly more than the sum of its generally successful parts and slightly better than both your typical found-footage flick and the often uneven horror anthology. All the same, ‘V/H/S’ delivers the thrills and chills craftily and with a better batting average than usual.”  MC: 53 RT: 56%

The Iowa State Fair tradition of dairy emulsion carving is molded into a (sort of) political satire in “Butter,” from director Jim Field-Smith. Hyper competitive, über-conservative Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) enters the competition in place of her 15-time-champion husband (Ty Burrell). She’s the shoo-in winner until an untold threat appears in the form of newcomer Destiny (Yara Shahedi). Meanwhile, hubby’s transgressions with a revenge-hungry exotic dancer (Olivia Wilde) produce another glitch in the Pickler award-winning machine. Rob Corddry, Alicia Silverstone, Ashley Greene, and Hugh Jackman co-star. Our review says, “Garner is so fully committed, Corddry so warm and Shahedi so winning that you wish they were in a better movie,” and concludes ” ‘Butter’ tries so hard to bring its characters together – and give each of them what they want – that it has to give up jabbing with its fists to hug with open arms. We, for one, wanted the film to stay cold and hard – the application of artificial warmth makes it a bit gooey and shapeless, and its potential edge turned into a blunt lump.” MC: 42 RT: 34%

Lee Daniels covers the sticky, heated world of 1960s Florida in trial-centered thriller “The Paperboy.” Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) has been charged with killing the town sheriff and now awaits his fate on death row. However, local newspaper editor Ward James (Matthew McConaughey) believes he’s innocent, and enlists another journalist (David Oyelowo) to help him prove it. They get Ward’s younger brother (Zac Efron) to be their driver and are soon sailing all over town looking for evidence, including with Wetter’s pen pal Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman). Macy Gray also co-stars. Our review says, ” ‘The Paperboy’ is overstuffed with too many plots and themes and then festooned with loose plot threads and laughable images sticking out of it; it’s like a dead porcupine, bloated with rot in the sun,” and calls the film “a lurid, florid, humid, flaccid and insipid waste of time and money for the audience and for everyone who made it.” MC: 49 RT: 48%

With “Wuthering Heights,” Andrea Arnold offers a fresh and sometimes radical adaptation of Emily Brontë’s timeless story. Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) adopts the homeless child Heathcliff (Solomon Glave/James Howson), bringing a raging, years-long tempest into his home. While daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer/Kaya Scodelario) becomes enamored of the boy, older son Hindley (Lee Shaw) refuses to accept the intrusion, eventually relegating the (now grown) adoptee to a life with the farm’s animals once the elder Earnshaw dies. And the entrance of another love interest (or, at least, a potential husband) for Cathy in Edgar Linton (Jonathan Powell/James Northcote) only complicates the situation further. Unfulfilled love, bitter resentment, and wicked retribution reign supreme. Our review calls the film “incredibly powerful, extremely sexy, and a truly remarkable reinvention,” adding, ” ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a model of how to bring a classic novel kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.” MC: 80 RT: 79%

Julian Farino’s satire “The Oranges” centers on the infidelity-heavy exploits that dismember a friendship between two decidedly upper-middle class couples: the Ostroffs (Allison Janey and Oliver Platt) and the Wallings (Catherine Keener and Hugh Laurie). Ostroff offspring Nina (Leighton Meester) returns from an around-the-globe trip with a broken heart, and immediately makes a play for David Walling, who is conveniently tired of being married to his wife. This strains relations among the adults. Then the age-appropriate, father-replacing heir apparent Toby Walling (Adam Brody) shows up! There’s definitely something Oedipal here, we’re just not quite sure what it is yet. Alia Shawkat co-stars as the Walling’s other child, Vanessa. Our review cites major issues with the characters and content alike, and acknowledges that the material would be better suited to television, but concludes, “there are few screens small enough to properly convey how inessential another deadpan suburbs satire is in 2012.” MC: 44 RT: 28%

Directors Susan Frömke and Matthew Heineman offer a potential solution to the innumerable problems of the United States’ medical system in “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.” The documentary details the current role of the administration as a for-profit mega conglomerate, and attributes that status to a dependency on expensive drugs and disease management, rather than prevention. Stories from policymakers, insurance reps, and medical journalists are interwoven with accounts from healthcare providers and patients alike. Soldier Robert Yates is one such case study, illustrating the low-cost, Eastern-medicine-based healthcare system employed by the U.S. military that could provide a possible model for the nationwide organization. Our review says, “it’s a compelling film built on expert testimony, personal stories and solid research, but the one downfall might be that it could stand to be about 10 minutes shorter. While each example works beautifully, the film starts to feel a bit repetitive as it goes on.” MC: n/a RT: 75%

An alpine resort provides the dramatic backdrop for juvenile larceny and familial dysfunction in “Sister,” from Swiss director and co-writer Ursula Meier. Tasked with ensuring the survival of both himself and his oft-absent and thoroughly irresponsible older sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux), 12-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) spends his days hawking gear he’s pilfered from unsuspecting tourists. Out of this odd line of work, the boy gleans a motley substitute family in several other local children, a chef (Martin Compston), and a vacationing mother (Gillian Anderson), and nearly abandons his neglectful sibling in return. Our review commends the lead performances and calls the film “as bleak and as beautiful as its snowy, mountainous setting,” concluding, ” ‘Sister’ is thought-provoking and heartrending, a story of hope and hopelessness in equal measure, a commentary on growing up and learning your place in the world.” MC: 80 RT: 100%

The documentary “The House I Live In” from Eugene Jarecki offers a deep examination of The War on Drugs in America, from descriptions of its first appearance in politics to reports from its modern day victims. A comprehensive history of the struggle that begins with the Nixon Administration is followed by personal stories – from a source close to Jarecki and an incarcerated offender – matched with accounts from police officers, journalists, lawyers, and border guards. Our review says, “the movie can feel a little all over the place at times. But what’s learned and expressed leaves a lasting impression, and that’s due to the extensive array of experts in all arenas on hand that create a multi-faceted study of a complex subject. And so even if the throughline feels a bit frayed in places, the depth of the material keeps it all moving along.” MC: 76 RT: 92%

Writer-director Roberto Faenza’s “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You,” based on the same-titled novel by Peter Cameron, follows a rebellious New York City teenager in all his misadventures. James Sveck (Toby Regbo) is moody, misanthropic, apathetic, and deep down, a very sensitive soul. (So – just like every other privileged 18-year-old who has graced the silver screen?) And his family is just as messy: his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) is married to a compulsive gambler; his father (Peter Gallagher) likes Botox and young babes; and his sister (Deborah Ann Woll) is dating a married man and dreams of having a more problematic existence. (Again – we have seen this before, right?) Ultimately, James can only find a connection with his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), which probably tells us a thing or two about his character. Lucy Liu and Stephen Lang co-star. Our review says, “as the credits roll, you’ll be left with a lot of questions. How did Faenza manage to attract this many talented people only to waste their time with this script (and how did these folks get roped into this?). How on Earth with the movie win an Italian Golden Globe for Best Screenplay?” and concludes, “we strongly insist that any pain you experience while watching this movie, will never be useful anytime or anyplace.” MC: n/a RT: 13%

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